Gretna Green photography project

I've undertaken a Gretna Green photography project as part of my degree studies. It's my attempt to document and build a story around this well-known area where lots of weddings take place each year.

 Gretna Green project

Here's how it all began...

Last September, I went back into education. In the mid 1990s, I attended the Kent Institute of Art and Design in Rochester, Kent and did an HND in Photography. I left there and worked in the sports photography industry for about 8 years before changing over to weddings and portraits. I've now been a photographer for over twenty years and have photographed weddings for more than half of that time.

When I tell people that I've gone back to college (to do a one-year degree top-up in photography), they often think it's to do with the learning about new cameras and technology etc. But it's not really like that. It's more to do with opening myself up to all the other photographic stuff I've been missing over these past few years. I know a lot of people that are in a similar position. We all get bogged down in our normal, working lives and although I have a creative job, I do spend a lot of time in front of a screen and doing mundane administrative tasks that need to be done when you're self-employed and running a business. I needed a fresh outlook and going back to college has been my release.

My main business of photographing weddings had kind of taken over everything I did within photography. As well as photographing weddings, I was looking at other wedding photographer's work but not a lot else. I was becoming a bit blind to everything else out there. Of course, I didn't need to go back to college to do this. My bank account would not now be one year's tuition fees lighter for a start. But I feel refreshed and enriched by the process and it has opened my eyes to all sorts of new artists, photographers and designers. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all hunky dory from the start. When the course began, I was still incredibly busy with my wedding work and running the two things together has not been easy. Sitting in some of the early lectures left me feeling as though too much was being talked about and analysed. Critical theory wasn't something that seemed to enter my world before I began all this. I had to tell myself that this was partly the reason for coming on the course so once I got my head around this, I really started to enjoy it.

 Gretna Green project - Susan and Phil Duncan after wedding back at Smith's Hotel

Gretna Green photography project

Anyway, back to Gretna Green. I have to submit a Final Major Project (FMP) which makes up a hefty chunk of my marks towards my degree. When I came on the course, I didn't want to do anything that was wedding related. That was my work and I needed to keep it separate from my (hopefully) new, creative way of looking. The idea of a Gretna Green project kept buzzing around in my mind but I kept resisting as it was wedding related. Slightly reluctantly, I went with it and I'm glad I did.

Without having been to Gretna Green before, the only thing I knew about it was its association with lots of weddings. Everybody knows that. The name is synonymous with runaway couples, elopements and romantic ceremonies performed by blacksmith priests. Apparently around 5000 couples still get married there every year. Just what is it that draws people to this small village just over the England/Scotland border? I certainly had no plans to set myself up as a so-called 'Gretna Green wedding photographer' - I'm not sure I could handle the 700 mile round trip each time. But I had an interest in visiting the place and seeing how it operates as a hub for so many weddings each year.

The project I have embarked upon is a mix of documentary images and formal portraits of couples that have gone to the area to get married and some that are in other parts of the UK but were married at Gretna in the past.

 Gretna Green project - Kerry and James' 10 year wedding renewal service at the Blacksmith's Shop

I'm not looking to include too many 'traditional' wedding images. Couples on their wedding day do feature but I'm not the official photographer for their wedding (there's usually one there to do all that stuff). But I've observed quite a few already, mainly with the kind cooperation of the staff at the Famous Blacksmiths Shop in Gretna Green which is almost like the central hub to a lot of what is going on in the area (wedding related that is).

When I looked online to find a Gretna Green photography project, I didn't come up with much. Yes, there's plenty of Gretna Green wedding images but thankfully for me, not a lot that's looking at the area in a more unconventional way. I'm not out to produce some sort of corporate brochure; Gretna Green seems to have little problem promoting itself to new couples that want to experience the history and romance of the area. I'm hoping to pick up a few stories along the way and have started recording some audio as well and will hopefully combine this with the photographs as part of my FMP.

When I first arrived in Gretna Green in February, I found out that filming for a new Channel 4 TV series had been going on for some time. I didn't know about this but was encouraged that the interest in Gretna Green would surely escalate when the series finally airs. 'Wedding Town' will be broadcast in June and is a series of fifteen 30-minute programmes.

I've just got back from my second trip up to Gretna Green carrying on from where I left off last time. In order for the project to develop, I decided to concentrate more on some of the couples I met up there, finding out about their story and why they chose to come to Gretna to get married. I've also recorded a brief interview with some of the couples and hopefully a few of these audio clips can then be used in a photofilm slideshow that I'll be producing for the FMP.

A couple of group exhibitions are planned for me and my fellow students. The first is at Hoxton Basement from the 1st - 6th June and then again at Chatham Dockyard from 29th June - 2nd July.